Archive for category Travel

The Human Cost of Consumerism

This video impacted on me – like a rotten egg on my Sunday morning face. I’ve lived in these cities, and met and enjoyed time with people like those featured here. I’ve seen the industrial waste dumped into the local farmer’s fish-ponds, and I’ve seen farmers turned off the land their families have been working for generations to make way for giant industrial complexes; leaving them with no option but to take new jobs for abominable wages in dangerous conditions. And, yes, I have a cell phone in my pocket.
What’s the answer? Well what about we start asking questions of the current round of ‘free’ trade talks. Because it seems to me that the ‘free’ market means the freedom of richer people to become even wealthier at the expense of poorer people.
How about we start insisting on fair trade, instead? How about we begin the long journey of changing our trade agreements, one commercial sector at a time, so that we only trade with those who offer their employees the same protections we insist upon for our own workforce?
How about we re-establish industries in NZ that have been outsourced (at great cost) to ‘cheaper’ (read ‘more easily exploited’) labour forces, and work to supply our own needs for things like electronics, and shoes, and fruit? What would it be like, if we all went back to eating food seasonally, instead of expecting to have everything available, all the time?
How about we offer favourable tariffs to enterprises that provide worker protections and benefits over and above the minimum standards (often non-existent) of their own legal setting?
Pipe dreams? Perhaps, but what are the alternatives? More of the same? More industrial deaths? More exploitation? Unceasing market ‘growth’ requiring increasing consumption of diminishing resources? More, More MORE?!
Perhaps we need to make a start on a new path. The one we’re on leads inevitably to a terrible cliff, and too many are falling by the wayside as we rush head-long to that drop. Perhaps we need to forget the ‘free’ market. We might end up with fewer consumer choices – but more real freedom. Until all are free, none are.

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From Kaiapoi

I’m sitting in the office of Tracy, the community worker for Kaiapoi Baptist, and just trying to get my head around all I’ve seen and heard in the last hour or so.

Firstly, Tracy is a dynamo of passion and commitment to this community.  As we cruised around the streets of Kaiapoi and the nearby beach suburbs she poured forth an intimate insiders’ view of what has happened, what is happening, and why.  We talked about the fact that for many in Kaiapoi, the September earthquake was the major event, rather than the February one.  Much media attention is focused on February’s quake, which killed people – largely because it occurred during the day – but Tracy tells me that the nightmare really began in September.

“What was the impact of the February Quake, then?” I ask.

“Brokenness upon brokenness,” she replies.

In Kaiapoi, 20% of the homes are red-zoned.  One in every five!  We drove around through neighbourhoods that were utterly deserted.  Here and there a lone resident hanging on in a miraculously livable house – or just a stubborn person refusing to move.  For many such neighbourhoods, however, the council is having to cut off their services, and then all but the most obstinate will be forced to go, whether their home has been damaged or not.

Worse than the red-zoning of houses, however, are the land assessments; many areas have been assessed as TC3, meaning that rebuilding on that land will require stringent earthquake resistance measures.  Insurance usually only covers like for like, and so a great many can’t afford to rebuild on their own property. Again, they have to leave.  A large number of residents were retired or near retirement.  They’ve now had to use their retirement savings, or obtain new mortgages, in order to build in a new part of town.  Rents have skyrocketed, land prices in the new subdivisions have increased in value, and building materials are at a premium as demand drives prices higher and higher.  Additional price pressure comes from Christchurch residents, looking for somewhere new to live, and moving into this outlying community. With all these pressures, everybody can name friends, family and neighbours who have simply left the area, leaving social voids that echo the empty spaces along so many streets, where homes once stood and now weeds grow amongst graffiti-ed rubble.

We also drove around the new suburbs, sites of busyness as new homes pour like wet concrete over flat farmland.  Houses here have to be built to certain specifications – three-level rooflines and the like – and again the standard is often a higher one than that of the homes that the insurance companies are replacing.  So again, people are facing new mortgages at a time when they thought that they were freehold, or much larger mortgages than they thought they would ever have to endure.  People who had retired or stayed home to care for children are returning to the workforce.  People with one job are looking for a second – or third – job to make ends meet and make repayments.  Families are seeing less of each other as financial burdens increase.  Communities and neighbourhoods that were settled and pleasant places are disbanding and scattering and there is no choice in the matter.  This is a refugee situation in a first world nation.

These physical and financial impacts are merely the surface of the emotional and social impacts.  Domestic violence increased 30% following the September quake, so DV services from Rangiora relocated to Kaiapoi.  After the September quake, councils and insurance companies made plans and laid out a road-map for recovery, and things were under way when the February quake happened, and everything changed again.  People no longer feel that their life is under control, and men, especially, are reacting to this.  Nothing is stable, nothing is reliable.  Who can you trust?  How can you plan when the rules keep changing?  And post-trauma stress is real.  Tracy remembers the screams from the church child-care centre when the February quake hit children who were beginning to recover from the life-shattering event of the previous September, and the looks on the faces of parents who ran from everywhere to be with their children.  She talks about what it’s like to be a quake survivor feeling the thud and crash of demolitions going on nextIMG435 door, when every sudden noise brings back vertiginous memories of floors swaying and ground dropping and bucking and ceilings cracking, sagging, showering you with plaster, and the earth at your feet gaping open and gushing forth liquefaction like some primeval wound.  I stood amidst the mess of the aftermath, and the sheer brokenness of the homes around me was a tearing ache in my spirit.  Imagine what it must have been like in the terror of the moment.

And then, she says, you finally have a nice new home, and life seems to be going back to normal, and yet you still feel completely abnormal; filled with grief and anger and pain and anxiety, and what do you do with these feelings now?  Now that the crisis is ‘over’?  People feel guilty, she said, for still feeling bad when their neighbours might still be wrestling with insurance company intransigence, or changing council requirements, or serious injury.  So feelings get stuffed, and emerge in other ways.

And yet there is also hope.  As I type, I have in front of me a black wooden block with a big red heart painted on it, and the single word, ‘hope’.  These were gifts from the ‘Ark’ childcare centre to their community.  Psalm 23.4 (look it up) is on the back.  Tracy is filled with passion and enthusiasm for her community, not just as the response of a warm and generous heart to the pain of her friends and neighbours, but also because she has seen so much of what God can and is doing for this place – especially through his people here.  Though the church, too, has suffered, it has become a centre of healing.  Unlike so many agencies that were established and funded to provide help in the days after the quake, and have since closed their doors, Kaiapoi Baptist isn’t going anywhere.  It belongs here and will continue to make a difference.  Its dinners, its film evenings for seniors (Kaiapoi has lost its movie theatre), its children’s groups and activities, its networking amongst the agencies and councils make it a strategic player for recovery.  The connections of the church to the community are personal, prophetic, and powerful.  They don’t just speak hope, they are that hope in the lives of so many.

How does that work?  That’s for the next post…

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India Update

At Last!  Connectivity!  Of the internet sort, at least – there’s been plenty of the low-tech kind involving hands and faces and speaking in many tongues and drinking innumerable cups of tea.

The last three days the internet cafe has been unable to connect, but today Sunga returned home, bringing his lap-top and T-stick.  So here we are again, visible internationally.  A couple of days under the home radar, however, has been very busily spent being very highly visible locally. 

Several from the team went to visit a local village, stopping several times (sometimes as per schedule, sometimes just because it was a good idea) to meet people, browse in the markets, and inaugurate Christmas celebrations by raising stars and switching on the Christmas lights!  The highlight?  Everyone I asked agreed that it was the warmth of the welcome and the generosity of our hosts everywhere, and this made up very well for the fact that they understood about one sentence in twenty, as and when the hosts remembered that only one of their New Zealander guests understood any Indian language.

There have also been women’s meetings, youth meetings, ongoing clinic work, many, many informal invitations to tea, lunch, afternoon tea, or just a sit-down and snack.  The children, since the end of the school term on Wednesday, have mostly gone home to their villages, but several of those that remain love to come around straight after breakfast, get Connor out of bed, and play games of cards or ball, or sing with him and Tina.  Right now as I type a game of snap is being punctuated with laughter and slapping sounds.  The power is off (for the fourth time tonight) so it’s going forward by lamplight. 

I’ve spent four days teaching the two Bachelor of Theology students here, covering subjects they’ve asked for ranging from “Healthy family/healthy church” to “Christ in his Palestinian context” to a four-hour session covering 17 pre-prepared questions on the book of Revelation.  Exciting stuff. 

We all have to be prepared to speak at the drop of a hat, and though that usually falls to Elizabeth or me, Bronwyn gave her testimony one night, and she and Tina took up the challenge to present a song at the youth event last night, too.  Our friends here are all incredibly keen to honour us, and that, to a very large part, is due to the role kiwis have played here in the past.  We are all seen to be the descendants and family of those who first came here, bringing the gospel in scripture, health services, and education that has sent many tribal people here on their way into the professions.  That’s another connection, of which we’ve been largely unaware until we arrived; we are part of a Kiwi Community that has achieved fantastic things for others around the globe.

All of us hope to make our small contribution to that legacy – but our time to do so is fast diminishing.  Tina has been busily devising strategies, such as a broken leg or a kidnapping to miss the flight and stay longer, a large part of her motivation being the fact that one of the Christmas traditions in Agartala is non-stop singing from the first minute of the twentieth of December to the last second of the second of January. As she describes it, “wicked!”

Tomorrow, Connor and I leave for Delhi, visiting other friends, and in two more days the rest of the team fly to Kolkata to rejoin Conor W. (if you’re reading this, Conor, give us an update – use the comments feature if you can’t get my email address to work), and then we all meet in Bangkok the following day.  Only Elizabeth stays behind, continuing her work of stimulating the very many groups based here to work together, to take new steps in their activities, and maintaining such a dense network of connections that few of us can recall all of the people we’ve met in the last few days. 

In the end, it’s always all about relationships. 

Stay connected….

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In and Out of Bangladesh

Four of us from the team (Lynette, Frances, Lynne & Bronwyn) left for the Bangladesh border on Thursday 24th November.  We encountered many road works at the border and at one point we were surrounded by at least 4 or 5 vehicles all traveling in different directions.  After trying to jump the immigration cue, we were put back in our place and waited to sign exit documents which were all written by hand.  It took 3 hours to travel 200 meters’ to enter Bangladesh.  Our luggage was dragged across the dusty no mans land with plenty of aromatic smells; we were missing our lavender bags.

After a 45 minute drive through the lush green rice fields, the beautiful fields of mustard and past purple water hyacinths we arrived in Brahmanbaria at the Baptist Mission Compound.  We were given a very warm welcome by Martin Nath and introduced to Issac who was our personal guide during our stay.  We also met David the general manager of the Hospital and Joi who was in charge of the laboratory.  We were treated royally because of their fond memories of the missionaries who had established the work many years before.  There were also many enquiries about Ian & Joy Brown, Raewyn Garwood, Delcie Guy, Olywn Halder & Doctor Don Dalziel.  It was so great that Lynette knew all these people and was able to make this connection.   This year the Baptist Mission Compound celebrated 100 years since their establishment.

We were shown to the guest house which over looked the fish pond located in the centre of the compound.  After a settling in period we were invited as guests to an annual football match between the hostel boys and staff.   The prize for the match was a large golden trophy.  We felt very important, Bronwyn even got to kick off at the start of the match taking out one of the hostel boys in the process (oops).

We barracked for the hostel boys and whenever they scored a goal all the boys on the sideline charged the field with whoops and shouts, chanting “Hostel! Hostel!” In the evening we were invited to the Christmas programme that the hostel boys were putting on.  They had decorated their study room and all the boys sat cross-legged on the floor for an HOUR & a HALF (even the five-year-olds).  For the first half of the programme they had readings and speeches and we were given gifts.  For the second half the boys sang songs and did drama’s.  We also sang them a song in Bengali that we’d learnt back in Calcutta.  After the programme, dinner was served in the open air hostel dining room (they are currently raising money for a new dining room!).  Lynette was able to sit with Jeson (a child she sponsors) and with the help of Issac had some conversation, although Jeson was very shy.

The next morning Lynette got up early and enjoyed the comings and goings of the people in the compound.  Issac introduced us to Kusum & Liton Halder who are the hostel parents for the 50 boys who range in age from 5 – 17 years (what amazing people).  We very much enjoyed the meals that we had at Kusum’s house!  That morning we had a tour of the hostel and gatecrashed the boys’ study session, which was cancelled for the morning.  Lynette was able to give Jeson some gifts she had brought.  One of the gifts was a game of snakes and ladders which was spread out across the desks and played with great enthusiasm and watched by many boys.  Some other boys took the map of New Zealand off the wall and talked about the different animals and features they could see.  Frances was able to show them where we lived in New Zealand.  The boys produced a list of their sponsors and were eager to ask us if we knew them.  Bronwyn knew one sponsor and had a photo taken with the boy.  THEN… there was a MASS photo session, everyone wanted to be in it.  Frances and Bronwyn learnt how to play Garan with the skillful and enthusiastic help of the boys, it was obviously a favorite game.

At lunchtime we finally discovered why Issac always arrived much earlier than expected to collect us.  He was on Bangladesh time while we were still half an hour behind on Indian time.  We had not realized that the 300m walk had taken so long!

After lunch  David showed us around the Medical Centre and Hospital.  The hospital is used extensively by the local people and there were many queues.  They mainly specialize in Maternity (delivering an average of 5-12 babies per day), family planning, immunizations and gynecological procedures.  David (Isaac’s brother) has recently qualified as a doctor with a post-graduate certificate in pediatrics.  There are only two doctors and a surgeon on site and they badly need a relieving doctor (hint, hint anybody know of anyone, please pray).  The tour also included the nurses quarters and we were presented with flowers by the Christian doctors who were in the middle of a meeting.  Lyn and Frances were especially touched by this gesture as it was the first time they had ever received flowers from a doctor (photos were taken of this momentous occasion for the benefit of all the Thames doctors).  We all enjoyed meeting the mothers with their new babies who usually stay in hospital for three days.

Kusum invited us to the woman’s prayer meeting which is held weekly at 4:30pm.  This was all in Bengali and we were made very welcome.  They even prayed for us about 3 times (we were so blessed).  We enjoyed a hard-boiled egg, a sweet biscuit and chai just before heading out for dinner.  We were invited to David’s house which is about 300m outside the compound in a gated apartment block.  We were introduced to Mary (David’s wife) and Raj (their son).  They were very proud of him at 16 months of age and there were many LARGE photos of him on the wall.  The menu was AMAZING and SUMPTUOUS.  We ate at a table in the bedroom as David & Mary normally eat downstairs with their extended family of 17 who live in other apartments in the block.  David & Mary waited on us, but did not eat with us, they reassured us that they would eat at about 10 or 11pm after David had picked up his brother.  We walked back to the mission compound and could eat no more (until the next day…).

Saturday morning we finally synchronized our watches and were almost ready when Issac came to fetch us.   He took us on a tour of the school on the compound.  The head mistress introduced us to each class and they each sang us a song – often in English.  The class sizes were up to 70 children.  The children were actually in the middle of exams which was quite embarrassing, but no-one seemed to mind.  These classes were for the younger children who had school from 7:30am-10:30.  The older students have their classes in the late morning (11am-1:30), while the senior students attend high school off campus for the afternoon.  After our tour the head mistress gave us chai tea and delicious food.

Following this Issac took us to meet his family including Dipa his wife, his daughter Justina and his mother Sara.  They rented a home on the compound.  We then had a fast and crazy drive in an auto rickshaw down into town to get some money from the ATM.  It was such a novelty to see a few shops with glass windows.  We were well protected in the ATM by a security guard, who kept sticking his head in to see if we were finished!

It was then back to the compound to meet Martin Nath’s family including his wife, their son Elvis and Martin’s mother who had suffered a stroke 3 years ago and could no longer speak.  Her eyes were very expressive and she gave us each a firm grip with her good hand.  We were again served chai tea and sweets. Lyn commented that we would explode if we had anymore food and we still had to have lunch.

Once again Lyn & Lynette interrupted an exam and Lynette was able to see Jeson in the classroom to say goodbye.  This teacher seemed less impressed by the interruption; she coped, however.  Meanwhile Frances and Bronwyn drew up a map of the compound for future reference.

Finally we were invited back to the hospital for a lunch in the board room with Martin, David and Joi.  We had a lovely meal of fish, rice and chicken…we were very full!  They also presented us with plaques commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the mission compound.  Through out the morning we had given token gifts to a number of people as we really appreciated their hospitality.

After lunch we just had 10 minutes to spare before our driver whisked us back through 45 minutes of skilled driving.  We passed 2km of trucks parked nose to tail while our driver attempted a skillful but scary passing maneuver with a large truck heading towards us, PHEW! Luckily he was blasting his horn.  We got back through immigration much more quickly this time as it was a quieter day.  We were disappointed at being over charged for our departure taxes, but what could we do?

On arriving back in India we were taken on a different route to the immigration building as the previous one had been bricked up (how much changes in just 2 days).  By the time we emerged from completing our arrival process our van had been blocked in by a rather large front end loader.  However this obviously did not faze our driver who blasted his horn and proceeded to drive straight toward it…amazingly the loader retreated.

It was so great to see the team already back from Jampui again and we realized how much we had missed everyone.  We were greatly blessed by our time in Brahmanbaria and hugely enjoyed it.

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Into the hills

So that’s what it’s like to be a celebrity! 

Three days ago we were driven seven hours to the eastern border of Tripura to a tiny village where thousands were gathering to celebrate 100 years of the gospel in this state – starting in that village.  The road was… interesting.  Initially for the wonderful glimpse it afforded into the rural life of north-east India; the wandering cows and the tiny goats enjoying the warmth of the tarmac, the small boys bathing in road-side cisterns wearing nothing but a red thread around their waist, the paddy fields and fish  ponds, the road workers carrying bricks, gravel, and hot tar in baskets balanced on their heads, etc.  The jeeps with 15 people inside and more on the roof and hanging on at the back.  Then again, the road was interesting for the driving style – honk as you pass and pray nothing is coming the other way at speed!  Usually it was impossible to see further than the tailgate of the truck in front – not that that prevents anyone from overtaking – an absoloute necessity given that these trucks travel slowly, with enormous smoke, and in long convoys along steep, winding, dusty roads. 

We did stop for a welcome break about halfway there in the village of Darchawi where we were fed sumptously at Sunga’s home.  After that the road deteriorated considerably, often being completely unsealed for very long stretches. 

After hours of climbing into the final mountain range in Tripura state, bordering on Mizoram, we wound our way down into the village centre, where we were given our registration materials.  At the same time a convoy of three vehicles pulled in; two filled with soldiers (with rifles and sidearms) and the third with a local politician who was staying (along with his security) in the same hotel as us – a freshly-painted tourist lodge at the top of the hill, with a wonderful view down the ranges.  Unfortunately we arrived 15 days before the hot water supply.  Cold showers still.  The security turned out to be very pleasant; the liuetenant colonel in charge of the detail spending some time talking with Connor about his work, and commenting that he looked like Jesus (!). 

After unpacking and washing up we went back down to the gathering area; a broad open space with a dusty surface, several structures for things like first aid and information, a huge covered eating hall, (eating involved giving up one of the meal tickets we got handed with our registration packs, pulling a tin plate from the barrel of rinsing water, and taking it along a servery where it was laden with rice, dahl, goat or pork curry, fried fish and chillies, finding a spot to lean on a bench, and scooping it up with the fingers of our right hand.  It paid not to arrive first when the food was still really hot) and an enormous bamboo semi-round structure covered with blue plastic on the outside, and lined with white linen inside, seating over a thousand with an enormous two-tier platform at one end, surrounded by speaker stacks, and fronted with an enormous flower arrangement and a gas torch (the flame of the gospel – lit ceremoniously by an elderly daughter of the first pastor in the area).  Here we sat in a front row, then I was culled out of the pack, and seated, along with Sunga, in a special pastors’ area.  This was sort of disconcerting, being separated from everyone else, but I was settling in, and shaking hands furiously with all the pastors as they arrived, when an usher came over and pulled me up again, and guided me up to the platform, then onto the top tier, and seated me in this golden chair like a pimple atop a battleship, where I had to stay for the next couple of hours.  I got to see everyone’s back.  The rest of the team, in the front row of seating, had a much better view.  EXCEPT for when they lit the torch – and then everyone lit candles from it, and I looked out on a sea of brown faces, softly lit from beneath.  Beautiful. 

The programme was heavy on greetings from various dignitaries, the launching of various books (including the administration manual for a medical centre), speeches and occasionally a song.  Finally I had to stand up and preach, through a translator.  This was interesting – especially when I decided to go walkabout to illustrate a point using candle and torch, and the translator could no longer hear what I was saying.  Ah well….

The programme on the next day wasn’t that different.  Except that it was cultural day, and everyone was in tribal dress and we got to see several displays of tribal dance – which was very cool, and included huge variety.  We took a few photos – but far more photos were taken of us!  There was a large media contingent there, and despite the fantastic things that were going on on stage, there was usually at least one video camera focused on us.  We had to be careful how we picked our nose or yawned.  When we were outside we would constantly be approached by people to take photos (usually younger people) or to be asked how various kiwis who had previously ministered in the region were doing (mostly older folks).  They had some difficulty believeing that we didn’t know all of these very famous people, who were so important in their history;  surely at least some of us were related to them?  Usually we referred these queries to Elizabeth.  No-one was rude or objectionable, however, and it wasn’t too difficult to be celebrities for a couple of days.  In fact, people’s friendliness and hospitality was often very touching; we’d be standing in the street for no more than a couple of minutes before someone would summon us in out of the sun, and provide us with fresh fruit (they grow bananas, oranges, pineapples, and betel nut here) and tiny mugs of beautiful sweet tea. 

Day three Connor, Tina, and Terri got up about 4.30 so that they could walk to a tower atop a nearby summit and get photos of the sunrise.  They arrived about 45 minutes before the dawn did, and had plenty of time to rest.  That day we stayed for the opening of the Gospel Centenary Centre, then piled into the vehicles for the trip back into the city, arriving last night in time for a meal before bed. 

Today we’ve had a quiet day.  the four who went to Bangladesh arrived back and we’ve been swapping stories all evening and enjoying being back together.  Conor has had two goes at rearranging his ticket back to Kolkata early so as to spend more time at Freeset. Ann and Liz went to a women’s meeting in the afternoon, coming back halfway through to get Tina and Terri so that they could join in with learning a hindi song.  I’ve spent much of the day preparing for the two sermons I have to present tomorrow.  We all went shopping at least once (Connor and I now have flip-flops for around the compound).  Sunga has left his laptop and T-stick here all day so most of us have caught up on email.  We’ve read, rehearsed some songs, played cards, and rested. 

We’ve been here now for 11 days – two weeks to go, and it seems like we’ve been here for over a month already.  Who knows what will come next…

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Farewell to Kolkata (for now)

This morning we lifted up out of the smog blanketting the city into a clear blue sky and headed east over Bangladesh to Tripura.  Leaving the city was a smooth operation, but involved some strong emotions; delight at seeing blue sky again, excitement about the next stage of the adventure, and a deep sadness for all we’re leaving behind, back under that blanket of grey.  Firstly for all our friends,especially the kiwi families we’ve visited with.  Our respect for you guys has grown by enormous leaps, as we’ve experienced for a week what you live with for years at a time – and we got it in the relatively comfortable ‘winter’ season, too.  It is weird to see people wearing scarves and jumpers as we’re soaking our t-shirts in sweat!  But the smoky air, the foul local water, the virulence of infections, and the sheer hard slog and long hours you put into your work all rob you of your health and vitality over time.  Only divine energy – being caught up in missio Dei – makes what you do possible at all!  Being around you was inspiring and enlightening.  You won’t be far from our thoughts in the months and years ahead.

Also, leaving behind the familiar faces around the city; the women of Freeset and Inner-logics, the staff of the BMS hostel, even the guards on the metro with their sub-machine guns and scowls, have all become familiar sights, and made their impression on us.  The ones I most regret leavng, though, are those with the least hope; the tiny women at the front gate of the hostel, sleeping amongst her two young boys and baby girl on the pavement each night, clutching at our arms for alms each day.  She, more than any, represents that city.  And my deep regret that before leaving, I had done nothing to change her situation.  Intellectually I know that no-one living so close to the Motherhouse of the Missionaries of Charity is without help, but what was my responsibility?  How did I minister to Christ in her?  I have commented previously that the city reminded me forcibly of our time in south China, but though the occupations (including beggar), the attitudes, the activities, the climate, the traffic – were so familiar, the intensity and density of the poverty, almost unrelieved by major developments, was qualitatively different.  It has affected me differently.  It has changed me, and I can only hope for the better. 

Agartala is different; how different we don’t yet know.  The street stalls are larger, the traffic is thinner, and so far I’ve seen no-one begging.  Tomorrow some of us head into Brahminbaria to visit old friends, and some of us head into the hills for a Centenary celebration among the tribes there.  I doubt we’ll have internet, so when I next write, we’ll have a better idea of our new surroundings anyway.

Until then…

Roger

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Letter From Kolkata

We’ve been in this fantastic/terrible city for four days, and so far no-one’s got lost or sick.  We’ve got busy, dirty, sweaty, tired, and emotional – but in a good way.  Steve P. has been taking great care of us; giving us careful orientation and insightful advice about how to handle everything.  On our first night he took us out to a cafe with western food and coffee – via auto-rick (the motorised rickshaws).  As some-one said after that first awesome ride, it makes the thrills of things like bungy-jumping fairly tame.

The next day we spent at Freeset; joining them for morning devotions, getting a quick tour of the premises (and introduced to everyone) and then put to work.  Connor D-B and Tina worked on fitting latches to plastic medicine cabinets for each room.  I repaired toys, fittings, and equipment in the nursery.  Others ran errands.  Some did quality control tasks; repeatedly timing specific steps in the production, or carefully measuring the bags’ dimensions.

I also got to design a T-shirt for our church.  They are having a slack time in their T-Shirt production at the moment, and have lots of surplus, so were glad to have a small extra task.  Working with their design team was real fun and opened my eyes to their professionalism, competence, and generosity.

The next day was at Innerlogics with Peter and Leonora, Graeme and Christine,  Moneesh and Rafique, and several young women workers.  Most of the women from our team did tasks like cutting old sari fabric or paper or card for book covers alongside these women.  Connor and Conor cleared out a corner of the balcony and constructed a set of shelves there for more storage, while Tina and I with Peter sorted and cleaned out a storeroom.  My next task was to go then with Peter two doors down the road (and up a dark, arrow, winding staircase) to an apartment that they had occupied until about a year ago, and which was the original premises for Freeset.  We had to shift their remaining equipment from here to the newly cleaned storeroom so that P. could shift her candle-making and laundry business into it.

P. is the women who started Freeset with the H.s.  Later that day I met her at Innerlogics as she sat reading her bible, and she talked with me for a while about how she has walked with Christ now for 12 years, and he constantly encourages her and helps her in her hard times.

Before lunch Steve took me and everyone younger than me out for some more orientation; the first task was to ride the buses to a particular destination and then return to our starting point.  Easy enough – once we realised that there was a woman’s side of the bus and a men’s.  The sniggering helped with that.  The reward was hot chai and an aloo dish served in leaves and eaten with thick pieces of bread.  Then it was learning about rickshaws.  The type that get pulled by skinny men in bare feet.  Only this time it was myself and the Con/nors pulling them while the girls and a rickshaw driver sat in state!  We got lots of laughs and stares all the way down the street, as we pounded the pavements and I nearly burst my lungs trying to get ahead and then stay ahead of Connor. He passed me in the end.

Peter and Leonora treated us to a beautiful lunch at their apartment – peanut butter and honey on homemade bread, salad (including lettuce!) and a beautiful spicy, meaty soup.

The afternoon for us young ones was taken up with rebuilding a slatted bed in the roof-top apartment, and cleaning up all the detritus that had gathered there over the months.  Including pulling Banyan trees out of the plaster where the seeds had blown across and taken root.  From the roof i could see a building across the street with a tree growing in the roof, already over 12 feet high and very wide – covering the entire building.

Several of the team had gone back to the hostel in the afternoon register at “the Motherhouse” – the headquarters of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity order so that they could work there today.  They rose at 5.30 this morning to be there by 6, and were then taken to the hospital for the destitute and dying to wash floors, make beds, clean linen, and comfort the patients.  They were all pleased they went, and took two others with them, also.

The remaining members of the party this morning went to the special service that Carey Baptist church do each Saturday for the Freeset women.  All the songs had the words in English script as well as Bengali, so we could ding along, and the sermon was by a visiting Canadian academic (translated into Bangla) so we could hear that perfectly well.  It was excellent preaching.

From there we all went to the Motherhouse, visiting the museum, and the tomb of Mother Teresa.  Many of her letters and written prayers were on display, and they gave a wonderful insight into her personality and devotion.

The city is immense, filthy, bustling, vibrant, blanketed in smog, and wonderful.  Every footpath near us is crowded with beggars.  Each night we step over whole families sleeping on the pavement. But the children are almost uniformly bright and delightful.  A group of Swedish students we’ve met are spending their time specifically with these children, playing with them and teaching them games and songs.  They often have great English.

Being here, and making our tiny contribution to the Tranzsend story in this city feels like an immense privilege.  Having the chance to build relationships with those who represent us here, and to meet those they serve, has been a deeply moving – and very sweaty – experience.  Worshipping with them this morning will always be a highlight of my life.  For that alone the ticket was worth it.

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